American Go E-Journal

In Memoriam: Peter Freedman

Wednesday January 26, 2022

Longtime go teacher and local organizer Peter Freedman has died. “Peter was a gentle and wonderful man,” said AGA president Andy Okun. “I am grateful for the chances I had to enjoy the game and organizing work with him over the last decade.” Freedman, who was active in the Portland, Oregon go scene for many years, directed the 2008 U.S. Go Congress, and was a key player in organizing the International Go Symposium in 2012.

“He was instrumental in organizing the Portland Go Club back in the 1970s and acted as President for a long time,” says Doug Cable. “Peter was also the main ‘mover and shaker’ for having the annual tournament at the Japanese Garden for several years and recently, in September of 2019, a major tournament there combined with teaching sessions for non-go players and beginners, as well as a display of Japanese woodblock prints with go subject matter. The growth of go in this town has been indelibly imprinted with the fingerprints of Peter Freedman.”

Named Teacher of the Year in 2014 by the American Go Foundation, Freedman ran several AGF programs over the years, “always encouraging kids, teaching new ones, and seeking to find ways to spread the game,” said Paul Barchilon. “He was often calling or emailing me to tell me about a new program (Irvington Elementary Program a Hit, Chess and Go in Portland and Beyond), or a new kid he was proud of. The pandemic of course took a toll on his activities, but he was teaching new kids on Zoom when possible, and even tried to arrange some matches between kids at my club and kids at his. His devotion to the game, and specifically to helping kids learn it, was something so many benefitted from. He will be greatly missed, but we should celebrate him for a life well lived.”

A Tribute to our Go Saint, Peter Freedman

by Fritz Balwit

I first met Peter Freedman in 2007 shortly after I took up the game of go. I had been working for some years teaching chess in afterschool programs when I was forcibly converted to go by an avid player who saw me innocently reading a chess book while we waited for our kids to finish a tumbling class. I was so taken with the beauty of the game that I immediately resolved to teach it instead of chess in all of my classes. Proceeding with more enthusiasm than knowledge, I embarked on this plan with mixed results. It was then that Peter got word of the project and called me up. I was surprised by the cheerful avidity with which he volunteered to assist me: ”Why hadn’t I thought of this–teaching kids in after-school classes,” he said. “This is the way to keep the precious cultural heritage of go alive!” I was glad to have him join me, not least because he had so much to teach me.  

Little did I know that we would collaborate for about eight years and bring go to about 10 different schools in the Portland area, teaching hundreds of kids how to play. This became our mission. I would lose hope time and again, but it would always be restored at the sight of faithful Peter, always there before me with his box of go boards, and a bag of treats for the kids. His love for teaching, his boundless patience with administrative hassles and general good cheer was enough to sustain me in what was not always rewarding work, especially in foul Winter weather when the public schools felt like grubby and pestilential places. Still we trusted the exquisite beauty of our game might counter the chaos of life. And sometimes it did. 

Peter never let the negatives get him down. He was there every week, sometimes 2 or 3 times a week. He showed immense kindness and wisdom in dealing with the kids. He undertook much of the communications with parents, too, diplomatically smoothing away difficulties both inside and outside of the classroom, and Peter refused any form of compensation for his work in all of this time. 

Freedman at the 2008 U.S. Go Congress; photo by Phil Straus

Sometimes Peter and I would sit down and play a game. It was then that I saw why he wanted to teach–for while it is possible to play go or chess out of many motives high and low, his notion of go emphasized the pure joy of communication that the game can entail. He always expressed making a move in terms of asking a question: What do you want and what are you prepared to give me? Winning or losing, for him the anxieties of ego and self judgment remained in the background.  To the kids, he showed that one could learn how to make better moves, devise a more clever plan, but in the end, go always involved sharing, taking responsibility for thinking for yourself,  and above all learning from your opponent. Playing go was fun but it represented a larger form of life wisdom. 

I was always impressed to hear about Peter’s projects outside of the game of go. He was an avid ping-pong player and a very good one. He had a deep appreciation of basketball and traditional folk music and blues. Many of our interests overlapped and we enjoyed sharing our enthusiasm. Peter’s way was always affirmation: What was good in the world? Go learn about it, cheer for it, and become a part of it. 

His last major project involved public advocacy for the Medicare-for-All Bill. He led a group trying to promote this through political means. The movement is still hanging in the balance, and it is sad that he did not get to see his efforts come to fruition. 

In short, the number of people that Peter impacted for good is astounding. He left us too soon, but we have plenty of his work still to accomplish–as well as his style of play and engagement with the world.  He has taught us the importance of cultivating joy in an ever-widening circle of friendships.